Percival Keene
231 Pages
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Percival Keene


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Learn all about the services we offer
231 Pages


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The Project Gutenberg EBook of Percival Keene, by F rederick Marryat
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Title: Percival Keene
Author: Frederick Marryat
Release Date: May 22, 2007 [EBook #21572]
Language: English
Character set encoding: ISO-8859-1
Produced by Nick Hodson of London, England
Captain Marryat
"Percival Keene"
Chapter One.
A few miles from the town of Southampton there is a n old mansion-house, which has been for centuries known as Madeline Hall, in the posses sion of the de Versely family. It is a handsome building, surrounded by a finely timbered park of some extent, and, what is more important, by about 12,000 acres of land, which also appertain to it. At the period in which I commence this history, there resided in this mansio n an elderly spinster of rank, named the Honourable Miss Delmar, sister of the late Lord de Versely and aunt to the present earl, and an Honourable Captain Delmar, who was the second so n of the deceased nobleman. This property belonged to the Honourable Miss Delmar, an d was at her entire disposal upon her decease.
The Honourable Captain Delmar, at the time I am spe aking of, commanded a frigate employed upon what was designated channel service, which in those days implied that the captain held a seat in the House of Commons and tha t he voted with the ministry; and further, that his vote might, when required, be forthcoming, the frigate was never sea-going, except during the recess. It must be admitted that H.M. ship Paragon did occasionally get under weigh and remain cruising in sight of land fo r two or three days, until the steward reported that the milk provided for the captain’s table was turning sour; upon which important information the helm was immediately put up, and th e frigate, in a case of such extreme
distress, would drop her anchor at the nearest port under her lee. Now as the Paragon was constantly at Spithead, Captain Delmar was very attentive in visiting his aunt, who lived at Madeline Hall; ill-natured people asserted, because she had so fine an estate in her own gift. Certain it is, that he would remain there for weeks, which gave great satisfaction to the old lady, who liked her nephew, liked attention, an d was even so peculiar as to like sailors. But it must be observed that there was another pers on at the mansion who also liked the captain, liked attention, and liked sailors; this w as Miss Arabella Mason, a very pretty young woman of eighteen years of age, who constantly look ed in the glass merely to ascertain if she had ever seen a face which she preferred to her own, and who never read any novel without discovering that there was a remarkable likeness between the heroine and her pretty self.
Miss Arabella Mason was the eldest daughter of the steward of the old Lord de Versely, brother to the Honourable Miss Delmar, and was much respected by his lordship for his fidelity and his knowledge of business, in the tran saction of which he fell, for he was felling trees, and a tree fell upon him. He left a widow an d two daughters: it was said that at his death Mrs Mason was not badly off, as her husband h ad been very careful of his earnings. Mrs Mason, however, did not corroborate this statem ent; on the contrary, she invariably pleaded poverty; and the Honourable Miss Delmar, after Lord de Versely’s death—which happened soon after that of his steward—sent both t he daughters to be educated at a country school, where, as everything that is taught is second-rate, young ladies, of course, receive a second-rate education. Mrs Mason was ofte n invited by the Honourable Miss Delmar to spend a month at Madeline Hall, and used to bring her eldest daughter, who had left school, with her. Latterly, however, the daugh ter remained as a fixture, and Mrs Mason received but an occasional invitation. It may be in quired in what capacity Miss Arabella Mason remained at the Hall; she was not a servant, for her position in life was above that of a menial; neither was she received altogether in th e saloon, as she was of too humble a grade to mix with gentry and nobility; she was, the refore, betwixt and between, a sort of humble companion in the drawing-room, a cut above the housekeeper in the still-room, a fetcher and carrier of the honourable spinster’s wi shes, a sort of link between the aristocratic old dame and her male attendants, towards whom she had a sort of old maidish aversion. However this position might be found useful to her mistress, it must be admitted that it was a most unfortunate position for a young, thoughtless, and very pretty girl, moreover, who was naturally very lively, very smart in repartee, and very fond of being admired.
As the Honourable Captain Delmar was very constant in his visits to his aunt, it was but natural that he should pay some little attention to her humble companion. By degrees the intimacy increased, and at last there were reports in the servants’ hall, that the captain and Miss Bella Mason had been seen together in the evergreen walk; and as the captain’s visits were continually repeated during the space of two y ears so did the scandal increase, and people became more ill-natured. It was now seen tha t Miss Bella had been very often found in tears, and the old butler and the older housekee per shook their heads at each other like responsive mandarins; the only person who was ignorant of the scandal afloat was the old lady spinster herself.
I must now introduce another personage. The Honoura ble Captain Delmar did not, of course, travel without his valet, and this importan t personage had been selected out of the marine corps which had been drafted into the frigat e. Benjamin Keene, for such was his name, was certainly endowed with several qualities which were indispensable in a valet; he was very clean in his person, very respectful in hi s deportment, and, after the sovereign of Great Britain, looked upon the Honourable Captain D elmar as the greatest person in the world. Moreover, Benjamin Keene, although only a private marine was, without exception, one of the handsomest men that ever was seen and be ing equally as well made and well drilled as he was handsome in person, he was the ad miration of all the young women. But Nature, who delights in a drawback, had contrived to leave him almost without brains; and
further, he was wholly uneducated—for he was too stupid to learn—his faculties were just sufficient to enable him, by constant drilling, to be perfect in the manual exercise, and mechanically to perform his duties as a valet.
Ben always accompanied his master to the hall, where the former was at one and the same time the admiration and laughter of all the servant s. It hardly need be observed, that the clever and sprightly Miss Arabella Mason considered Ben as one much beneath her, that is, she said so on his first arrival at Madeline hall; but, strange to say, that two years afterwards, just at the time that reports had been raised that she had been frequently discovered in tears, there was a change in her manner towards him; indee d some people insinuated that she was setting her cap at the handsome marine: this id ea, it is true, was ridiculed by the majority; but still the intimacy appeared rapidly to increase. It was afterwards asserted by those who find out everything after it has taken place, that Ben would never have ventured to look up to such an unequal match had he not been prompted to it by his master, who actually proposed that he should marry the girl. That such w as the fact is undoubted, although they knew it not; and Ben, who considered the wish of hi s captain as tantamount to an order, as soon as he could comprehend what his captain required of him, stood up erect and raised his hand with a flourish to his head, in token of h is obedience. Shortly afterwards, Captain Delmar again came over to Madeline Hall, accompanie d as usual, by Ben, and the second day after their arrival it was made known to all wh om it might concern, that Miss Arabella Mason had actually contracted a secret marriage with the handsome Benjamin Keene.
Of course, the last person made acquainted with thi s interesting intelligence was the Honourable Miss Delmar, and her nephew took upon hi mself to make the communication. At first the honourable spinster bridled up with indig nation, wondered at the girl’s indelicacy, and much more at her demeaning herself by marrying a private marine. Captain Delmar replied, that it was true that Ben was only a priva te, but that every common soldier was a gentleman by profession. It was true that Bella Mason might have done better—but she was his aunt’s servant, and Keene was his valet, so tha t the disparity was not so very great. He then intimated that he had long perceived the growi ng attachment; talked of the danger of young people being left so much together; hinted ab out opportunity, and descanted upon morals and propriety. The Honourable Miss Delmar wa s softened down by the dexterous reasoning of her nephew; she was delighted to find so much virtue extant in a sailor; and, after an hour’s conversation, the married couple were sent for, graciously pardoned, and Mrs Keene, after receiving a very tedious lecture, rece ived a very handsome present. But if her mistress was appeased, Mrs Keene’s mother was not. As soon as the intelligence was received, old Mrs Mason set off for Madeline Hall. She first had a closeted interview with her daughter, and then with Captain Delmar, and as soon as the latter was over, she immediately took her departure, without paying her respects to the mistress of the Hall, or exchanging one word with any of the servants; this conduct gave occasion to more innuendoes—some indeed ascribed her conduct to mortification at her daughter’s having made so imprudent a match, but others exchanged very significant glances.
Three weeks after the marriage, the Parliament havi ng been prorogued, the admiral of the port considered that he was justified in ordering the frigate out on a cruise. Ben Keene, of course accompanied his master, and it was not until three months had passed away that the frigate returned into port. As usual, the Honourabl e Captain Delmar, as soon as he had paid his respects to the admiral, set off to visit his aunt, accompanied by his benedict marine. On his arrival, he found that everything appeared to b e in great confusion; indeed an event was occurring which had astonished the whole household; the butler made a profound bow to the captain; the footmen forgot their usual smirk when he alighted. Captain Delmar was ushered in solemn silence into the drawing-room, and his au nt, who had notice of his arrival received him with a stiff, prim air of unwonted frigidity, w ith her arms crossed before her on her white muslin apron.
“My dear aunt,” said Captain Delmar, as she coldly took his proffered hand, “what is the matter?”
“The matter is this, nephew,” replied the old lady— “that marriage of your marine and Bella Mason should have taken place six months sooner tha n it did. This is a wicked world, nephew; and sailors, I’m afraid, are—”
“Marines, you should say, in this instance, my dear aunt,” replied Captain Delmar, insinuatingly. “I must confess that neither sailors nor marines are quite so strict as they ought to be; however, Ben has married her. Come, my dear aunt, allow me to plead for them, although I am very much distressed that such an eve nt should take place in your house. I think,” added he, after a pause, “I shall give Mr K eene seven dozen at the gangway, for his presumption, as soon as I return on board.”
“That won’t mend the matter, nephew,” replied Miss Delmar. “I’ll turn her out of the house as soon as she can be moved.”
“And I’ll flog him as soon as I get him on board,” rejoined the captain. “I will not have your feelings shocked, and your mind harassed in this wa y, by any impropriety on the part of my followers—most infamous—shameful—abominable—unpardo nable,” interjected the captain, walking the quarter-deck up and down the room.
The Honourable Miss Delmar continued to talk, and the honourable captain to agree with her in all she said, for an hour at least. When peo ple are allowed to give vent to their indignation without the smallest opposition they so on talk it away; such was the case with the Honourable Miss Delmar. When it was first annou nced that Bella Keene was safely in bed with a fine boy, the offended spinster turned a way from the communication with horror; when her own maid ventured to remark that it was a lovely baby, she was ordered to hold her tongue; she would not see the suffering mother, and the horrid marine was commanded to stay in the kitchen, lest she should be contamin ated by meeting him on the stairs; but every day softened down her indignation, and before a fortnight was over the Honourable Miss Delmar had not only seen but admired the baby; and at last decided upon paying a visit to the mother, who was now sufficiently recovered to undergo a lecture of about two hours’ length, in which the honourable spinster commented upon herindecency,indiscretion, inconsiderateness,incorrectness,indecorum,incontinence, andindelicacy; pointing out that her conduct was most inexcusable, iniquitous, and m ost infamous. The Honourable Miss Delmar having had such a long innings then gave it up, because she was out of breath. Bella, who waited patiently to make her response, a nd who was a very clever girl, then declared, with many tears, that she was aware that her conduct wasinexcusable, her faults had beeninvoluntary, and her sorrow wasinexpressible; herinexperience and her infatuation her only apology; that herinfelicity at her mistress’s displeasure wouldinevitably increase her sufferings; assured her that she was n otincorrigible, and that if her mistress would only indulge her with forgiveness, as she hop ed toinherit heaven she would never incur her anger by committing the same fault again. S atisfied with this assurance, the Honourable Miss Delmar softened down, and not only forgave, but actually took the child into her lap that Bella might read the Bible which she had presented her with. Reader, the child who had this great honour conferred upon him, who actually laid in the immaculate lap, on the apron of immaculate snowy whiteness of the i mmaculate Honourable Miss Delmar, was no other person than the narrator of this histo ry—or, if you please it, the Hero of this Tale.
That my mother had so far smoothed things pretty well must be acknowledged; but it was to be presumed that her husband might not be pleased a t so unusual an occurrence, and already the sneers and innuendoes of the servants’ hall were not wanting. It appeared, however, that an interview had taken place between Ben and Captain Delmar shortly after
my making my appearance: what occurred did not transpire, but this is certain that, upon the marine’s return to the kitchen, one of the grooms, who ventured to banter him, received such a sound thrashing from Ben that it put an end to al l further joking. As Ben had taken up the affair so seriously, it was presumed that if there had been anticipation of the hymeneal rites he was himself the party who had been hasty; and th at now he was married, he was resolved to resent any impertinent remarks upon his conduct. At all events, the question now became one of less interest, as the scandal was of less importance; and as Ben had made known his determination to resent any remarks upon the subject, not a word more was said, at all events when he was present.
In due time I was christened, and so completely was my mother reinstalled in the good graces of her mistress, that as Captain Delmar had volunteered to stand my sponsor, the Honourable Miss Delmar gave the necessary female se curity; at the particular request of my mother, the captain consented that I should bear hi s own Christian name, and I was duly registered in the church books as Percival Keene.
Chapter Two.
There is no security in this world. A dissolution o f Parliament took place, and on the following election the Honourable Captain Delmar’s constituents, not being exactly pleased at the total indifference which he had shown to the ir interests, took upon themselves to elect another member in his stead, who, as Captain Delmar had previously done, promised everything, and in all probability would follow the honourable captain’s example by performing nothing. The loss of his election was fo llowed up by the loss of his ship, his majesty’s government not considering it necessary that Captain Delmar (now that he had leisure to attend to his professional duties) should retain his command. The frigate, therefore, was paid off, and recommissioned by another captain who had friends in Parliament.
As Ben Keene belonged to the marine corps, he could not, of course, remain as valet to Captain Delmar, but was ordered, with the rest of t he detachment, to the barracks at Chatham; my mother, although she was determined that she would not live at barracks, was not sorry to leave the Hall, where she could not fa il to perceive that she was, from her imprudent conduct, no longer treated with the respe ct or cordiality to which she had been previously accustomed. She was most anxious to quit a place in which her disgrace was so well known; and Captain Delmar having given her his advice, which coincided with her own ideas, and also a very munificent present to enable her to set up housekeeping, took his departure from the Hall. My mother returned to her room as the wheels of his carriage rattled over the gravel of the drive, and many were the bit ter tears which she shed over her unconscious boy.
The following day the Honourable Miss Delmar sent for her; as usual, commenced with a tedious lecture, which, as before, was wound up at parting with a handsome present. The day after my mother packed up her trunks, and with me in her arms set off to Chatham, where we arrived safely, and immediately went into furnis hed lodgings. My mother was a clever, active woman, and the presents which she had at different times received amounted to a considerable sum of money, over which her husband h ad never ventured to assert any claim.
Indeed, I must do Ben Keene the justice to say that he had the virtue of humility. He felt that his wife was in every way his superior and that it was only under peculiar circumstances that he could have aspired to her. He was, therefore, submissive to her in everything, consenting to every proposal that was made by her, and guided by her opinion. When, therefore, on her arrival at Chatham, she pointed out how impossible it would be for one brought up as she had been to associate with the women in the barracks, and that she considered it advisable
that she should set up some business by which she m ight gain a respectable livelihood, Ben, although he felt that this would be a virtual separationa mensâ et thoro, named no objections. Having thus obtained the consent of her husband, who considered her so much his superior as to be infallible, my mother, after much cogitation, resolved that she would embark her capital in a circulating library and sta tioner’s shop; for she argued that selling paper, pens, and sealing-wax was a commerce which w ould secure to her customers of the better class. Accordingly, she hired a house close to the barracks, with a very good-sized shop below, painting and papering it very smartly; there was much taste in all her arrangements, and although the expenses of the outl ay and the first year’s rent had swallowed up a considerable portion of the money sh e had laid by, it soon proved that she had calculated well, and her shop became a sort of lounge for the officers, who amused themselves with her smartness and vivacity, the more so as she had a talent for repartee, which men like to find in a very pretty woman.
In a short time my mother became quite the rage, an d it was a mystery how so pretty and elegant a person could have become the wife of a private marine. It was however, ascribed to her having been captivated with the very handsom e person and figure of her husband, and having yielded to her feelings in a moment of i nfatuation. The ladies patronised her circulating library; the officers and gentlemen pur chased her stationery. My mother then added gloves, perfumery, canes, and lastly cigars, to her previous assortment and before she had been a year in business, found that she was making money very fast, and increasing her customers every day. My mother had a great deal of tact; with the other sex she was full of merriment and fond of joking, consequently a great favourite; towards her own sex her conduct was quite the reverse; she assumed a respectful, prudish air, blended with a familiarity which was never offensive; she was, the refore, equally popular with her own sex, and prospered in every sense of the word. Had her h usband been the least inclined to have asserted his rights, the position which she had gai ned was sufficient to her reducing him to a state of subjection. She had raised herself, unaide d, far above him; he saw her continually chatting and laughing with his own officers, to who m he was compelled to make a respectful salute whenever they passed by him; he could not ve nture to address her, or even to come into the shop, when his officers were there, or it would have been considered disrespectful towards them; and as he could not sleep out of barracks, all his intercourse with her was to occasionally slink down by the area, to find something better to eat than he could have in his own mess, or obtain from her an occasional shilling to spend in beer. Ben, the marine, found at last that somehow or another, his wife had slipp ed out of his hands; that he was nothing more than a pensioner on her bounty a slave to her wishes, and a fetcher and carrier at her command, and he resigned himself quietly to his fate, as better men have done before.
Chapter Three.
I think that the reader will agree with me that my mother showed in her conduct great strength of character. She had been compelled to ma rry a man whom she despised, and to whom she felt herself superior in every respect; she had done so to save her reputation. That she had been in error is true but situation and opp ortunity had conspired against her; and when she found out the pride and selfishness of the man to whom she was devoted, and for whom she had sacrificed so much,—when her ears were wounded by proposals from his lips that she should take such a step to avoid the scandal arising from their intimacy—when at the moment that he made such a proposition, and the veil fell down and revealed the heart of man in its selfishness, it is not to be wondered that, with bitter tears, arising from wounded love, anger, and despair at her hopeless position, she consented. After having lost all she valued, what did she care for the future? It was bu t one sacrifice more to make, one more proof of her devotion and obedience. But there are few women who, like my mother, would have recovered her position to the extent that she did. Had she not shown such determination, had she consented to have accompanie d her husband to the barracks, and
have mixed up with the other wives of the men, she would have gradually sunk down to their level; to this she could not consent. Having once f reed herself from her thraldom, he immediately sunk down to his level, as she rose up to a position in which, if she could not ensure more than civility and protection, she was a t all events secure from insult and ill-treatment.
Such was the state of affairs when I had arrived at the important age of six years, a comic-looking, laughing urchin, petted by the officers, a nd as fall of mischief as a tree full of monkeys. My mother’s business had so much increased , that, about a year previous to this date, she had found it necessary to have some one t o assist her, and had decided upon sending for her sister Amelia to live with her. It was, however, necessary to obtain her mother’s consent. My grandmother had never seen my mother since the interview which she had had with her at Madeline Hall shortly after her marriage with Ben the marine. Latterly, however, they had corresponded; for my mother, who was too independent to seek her mother when she was merely the wife of a private ma rine, now that she was in flourishing circumstances had first tendered the olive branch, which had been accepted, as soon as my grandmother found that she was virtually separated from her husband. As my grandmother found it rather lonely at the isolated house in which she resided, and Amelia declared herself bored to death, it was at last agreed that my grand mother and my aunt Amelia should both come and take up their residence with my mother, an d in due time they arrived. Milly, as my aunt was called, was three years younger than my mo ther, very pretty and as smart as her sister, perhaps a little more demure in her look, but with more mischief in her disposition. My grandmother was a cross, spiteful old woman; she wa s very large in her person, but very respectable in her appearance. I need not say that Miss Amelia did not lessen the attraction at the circulating library, which after her arrival was even more frequented by the officers than before.
My aunt Milly was very soon as fond of me as I was of mischief; indeed it is not to be wondered at, for I was a type of the latter. I soon loved her better than my mother, for she encouraged me in all my tricks. My mother looked grave, and occasionally scolded me; my grandmother slapped me hard and rated me continuall y; but reproof or correction from the two latter were of no avail; and the former, when s he wished to play any trick which she dared not do herself, employed me as her agent; so that I obtained the whole credit for what were her inventions, and I may safely add, underwen t the whole blame and punishment; but that I cared nothing for; her caresses, cakes, and sugar-plums, added to my natural propensity, more than repaid me for the occasional severe rebukes of my mother, and the vindictive blows I received from the long fingers o f my worthy grandmother. Moreover, the officers took much notice of me, and it must be admitted, that, although I positively refused to learn my letters, I was a very forward child. My great patron was a Captain Bridgeman, a very thin, elegantly-made man, who was continually perfo rming feats of address and activity; occasionally I would escape with him and go down to the mess, remain at dinner, drink toasts, and, standing on the mess-table, sing two or three comic songs which he had taught me. I sometimes returned a little merry with the bumpers, which made my mother very angry, my old grandmother to hold up her hands, and look a t the ceiling through her spectacles, and my aunt Milly as merry as myself. Before I was eight years old, I had become so notorious, that any prank played in the town, any trick undiscovered, was invariably laid to my account; and many were the applications made to my mother for indemnification for broken windows and other damage done, too often, I grant, with good reason, but very often when I had been perfectly innocent of the misdemean our. At last I was voted a common nuisance, and every one, except my mother and my aunt Milly, declared that it was high time that I went to school.
One evening the whole of the family were seated at tea in the back parlour. I was sitting very quietly and demurely in a corner, a sure sign that I was in mischief, and so indeed I was (for I wasputtinga littlegunpowder into mygrandmother’ s snuff-box, which I hadpurloined,just
that she might “smell powder,” as they say at sea, without danger of life or limb), when the old woman addressed my mother—
“Bella, is that boy never going to school? it will be the ruin of him.”
“What will be the ruin of him, mother?” rejoined my aunt Milly; “going to school?”
“Hold your nonsense, child: you are as bad as the b oy himself,” replied granny. “Boys are never ruined by education; girls sometimes are.”
Whether my mother thought that this was an innuendo reflecting upon any portion of her own life, I cannot tell; but she replied very tartly.
“You’re none the worse for my education, mother, or you would not be sitting here.”
“Very true, child,” replied granny; “but recollect, neither would you have married a marine—a private marine, Bella, while your sister looks up t o the officers. Ay,” continued the old woman, leaving off her knitting and looking at her daughter, “and is likely to get one, too, if she plays her cards well—that Lieutenant Flat can’t keep out of the shop.” (My granny having at this moment given me an opportunity to replace h er snuff-box, I did not fail to profit by it; and as I perceived her knitting-pin had dropped on the floor, I stuck it into the skirt of her gown behind, so that whenever she looked for it, it was certain ever to be behind her.)
“Mr Flat is of a very respectable family, I hear say,” continued my grandmother.
“And a great fool,” interrupted my mother. “I hope Milly won’t listen to him.”
“He’s an officer,” replied my granny, “not a private.”
“Well, mother, I prefer my private marine, for I can make him do as I please; if he’s a private, I’m commanding officer, and intend so to be as long as I live.”
“Well, well, Bella, let us say no more on the old score; but that boy must go to school. Deary me, I have dropped my needle.”
My grandmother rose, and turned round and round, looking for her needle, which, strange to say, she could not find; she opened her snuff-box, and took a pinch to clear her optics. “Deary me, why, what’s the matter with my snuff? an d where can that needle be? Child, come and look for the needle; don’t be sticking there in that corner.”
I thought proper to obey the order and pretended to be very diligent in my search. Catching aunt Milly’s eye, I pointed to the knitting-needle sticking in the hind skirts of my grandmother’s gown, and then was down on my knees a gain, while my aunt held her handkerchief to her mouth to check her laughter.
A minute afterwards, Ben the marine first tapped gently, and then opened the door and came in; for at that late hour the officers were all at dinner, and the shop empty.
“There are three parcels of books for you to take,” said my mother; “but you’ve plenty of time, so take down the tea-things, and get your tea in the kitchen before you go.”
“You haven’t got a shilling, Bella, about you? I wa nt some ’baccy,” said Ben, in his quiet way.
“Yes, here’s a shilling, Ben; but don’t drink too much beer,” replied my mother.
“Deary me, what can have become of my needle?” excl aimed my grandmother, turning round.
“Here it is, ma’am,” said Ben, who perceived it sticking in her skirt. “That’s Percival’s work, I’ll answer for it.”
My granny received the needle from Ben, and then turned to me: “You good-for-nothing boy; so you put the needle there, did you? pretending to look for it all the while; you shall go to school, sir, that you shall.”
“You said a needle, granny; I was looking for a nee dle: you didn’t say your knitting-pin; I could have told you where that was.”
“Yes, yes, those who hide can find; to school you go, or I’ll not stay in the house.”
Ben took the tea-tray out of the room. He had been well drilled in and out of barracks.
“I’ll go down in the kitchen to father,” cried I, for I was tired of sitting still.
“No, you won’t, sir,” said my mother, “you naughty boy; the kitchen is not the place for you, and if ever I hear of you smoking a pipe again—”
“Captain Bridgeman smokes,” replied I.
“Yes, sir, he smokes cigars; but a child like you must not smoke a pipe.”
“And now come here, sir,” said my granny, who had the lid of her snuff-box off, and held it open in her hand; “what have you been doing with my snuff?”
“Why, granny, have I had your snuff-box the whole day?”
“How should I know?—a boy like you, with every fing er a fish-hook; I do believe you have; I only wish I could find you out. I had fresh snuff this morning.”
“Perhaps they made a mistake at the shop, mother,” said aunt Milly; “they are very careless.”
“Well, I can’t tell: I must have some more; I can’t take this.”
“Throw it in the fire, granny,” said I; “and I’ll run with the box and get it full again.”
“Well, I suppose it’s the best thing I can do,” rep lied the old woman, who went to the grate, and leaning over, poured the snuff out on the live coals. The result was a loud explosion and a volume of smoke, which burst out of the grate into her face—the dinner and lappets singed, her spectacles lifted from her nose, and her face a s black as a sweep’s. The old woman screamed, and threw herself back; in so doing, she fell over the chair upon which she had been sitting, and, somehow or another, tripped me up, and lay with all her weight upon me. I had been just attempting to make my escape during the confusion—for my mother and Milly were equally frightened—when I found myself completely smothered by the weight of my now almost senseless granny, and, as I have before mentioned, she was a very corpulent woman. Had I been in any other position I should no t have suffered so much; but I had unfortunately fallen flat on my back, and was now l ying with my face upwards, pressed upon by the broadest part of the old woman’s body; my no se was flattened, and my breath completely stopped. How long my granny might have remained there groaning I cannot tell; probably, as I was somewhat a spoiled child before this, it might have ended in her completely finishing me; but she was roused up from her state of half syncope by a vigorous attack from my teeth, which, in the agony of suffocation, I used with preternatural force of jaw from one so young. I bit right through everything s he had on, and as my senses were fast departing, my teeth actually met with my convulsive efforts. My granny, roused by the extreme pain, rolled over on her side, and then it was that my mother and aunt, who supposed that I had made myescape from the room, discovered me lifeless, and black in the
face. They ran to me, but I still held on with my teeth, nor could I be separated from my now screaming relative, until the admission of fresh ai r, and a plentiful sprinkling of cold water brought me to my senses, when I was laid on the sofa utterly exhausted. It certainly was a narrow escape, and it may be said that the “biter w as nearly bit.” As for my granny, she recovered her fright and her legs, but she did not recover her temper; she could not sit down without a pillow on the chair for many days, and, a lthough little was said to me in consequence of the danger I had incurred, yet there was an evident abhorrence of me on the part of the old woman, a quiet manner about my moth er, and a want of her usual hilarity on the part of my aunt, which were to me a foreboding of something unpleasant. A few days brought to light what was the result of various whisperings and consultations. It was on a fine Monday morning, that Ben made his appearance at an unusually early hour; my cap was put on my head, my cloak over my shoulders; Ben took me by the hand, having a covered basket in the other, and I was led away like a lamb to the butcher. As I went out there was a tear in the eyes of my aunt Milly, a melancholy ove r the countenance of my mother, and a twinkling expression of satisfaction in my grandmother’s eyes, which even her spectacles could not conceal from me: the fact was, my grandmother had triumphed, and I was going to school.
Chapter Four.
As soon as I was clear of the door, I looked up into Ben’s face and said, “Father, where are we going?”
“Well,” replied he, “I am going to take you to school.”
“School! What am I going to school for?” replied I.
“For biting your grandmother, I expect, in the firs t place, and to get a little learning, and a good deal of flogging, if what they say is true! I never was at school myself.”
“What do you learn, and why are you flogged?”
“You learn to read, and to write, and to count; I can’t do either—more’s the pity; and you are flogged, because without flogging, little boys can’ t learn anything.”
This was not a very satisfactory explanation. I mad e no further inquiries, and we continued our way in silence until we arrived at the school d oor; there was a terrible buzz inside. Ben tapped, the door opened, and a volume of hot air bu rst forth, all the fresh air having been consumed in repeating the fresh lessons for the day. Ben walked up between the forms, and introduced me to the schoolmaster, whose name was M r Thadeus O’Gallagher, a poor scholar from Ireland, who had set up an establishme nt at half-a-guinea a quarter for day scholars; he was reckoned a very severe master, and the children were kept in better order in his school than in any other establishment of th e kind in the town; and I presume that my granny had made inquiries to that effect, as there were one or two schools of the same kind much nearer to my mother’s house. Ben, who probably had a great respect for learning, in consequence of his having none himself, gave a mili tary salute to Mr O’Gallagher, saying, with his hand still to his hat, “A new boy, sir, come to school.”
“Oh, by the powers! don’t I know him?” cried Mr O’Gallagher; “it’s the young gentleman who bit a hole in his grandmother; Master Keene, as they call him. Keen teeth, at all events. Lave him with me; and that’s his dinner in the basket I presume; lave that too. He’ll soon be a good boy, or it will end in a blow-up.”
Ben put down the basket, turned on his heel, and le ft the schoolroom, and me standing by the throne of my future pedagogue—I say throne, bec ause he had not a desk, as
schoolmasters generally have, but a sort of square daïs, about eighteen inches high, on which was placed another oblong superstructure of the same height, serving him for a seat; both parts were covered with some patched and torn old drugget, and upon subsequent examination I found them to consist of three old cl aret cases without covers, which he had probably picked up very cheap; two of them turned u pside down, so as to form the lower square, and the third placed in the same way upside down, upon the two lower. Mr O’Gallagher sat in great dignity upon the upper one , with his feet on the lower, being thus sufficiently raised upon an eminence to command a v iew of the whole of his pupils in every part of the school. He was not a tall man, but very square built, with carroty hair and very bushy red whiskers; to me he appeared a most formid able person, especially when he opened his large mouth and displayed his teeth, whe n I was reminded of the sign of the Red Lion close to my mother’s house. I certainly never had been before so much awed during my short existence as I was with the appearance of my pedagogue, who sat before me somewhat in the fashion of a Roman tribune, holding in his hand a short round ruler, as if it were his truncheon of authority. I had not been a minute in the school before I observed him to raise his arm; away went the ruler whizzing through the air, until it hit the skull of the lad for whom it was intended at the other end of the school room. The boy, who had been talking to his neighbour, rubbed his poll, and whined.
“Why don’t you bring back my ruler, you spalpeen?” said Mr O’Gallagher. “Be quick, Johnny Target, or it will end in a blow-up.”
The boy, who was not a little confused with the blo w, sufficiently recovered his senses to obey the order, and whimpering as he came up, retur ned the ruler to the hands of Mr O’Gallagher.
“That tongue of yours will get you into more troubl e than it will business, I expect, Johnny Target; it’s an unruly member, and requires a constant ruler over it.” Johnny Target rubbed his head and said nothing.
“Master Keene,” said he, after a short pause, “did you see what a tundering tump on the head that boy got just now, and do you know what it was for?”
“No,” replied I.
“Where’s your manners, you animal? No ‘If you plase .’ For the future, you must not forget to say, ‘No, sir,’ or, ‘No, Mr O’Gallagher.’ D’ye mind me—now say yes—what?”
“Yes, what!”
“Yes, what! you little ignoramus; say ‘yes, Mr O’Gallagher,’ and recollect, as the parish clerk says, ‘this is the last time of asking.’”
“Yes, Mr O’Gallagher.”
“Ah! now you see, there’s nothing like coming to sc hool—you’ve learn’t manners already; and now, to go back again, as to why Johnny Target had the rap on the head, which brought tears into his eyes? I’ll just tell you, it was for talking; you see, the first thing for a boy to learn, is to hold his tongue, and that shall be your lesson for the day; you’ll just sit down there and if you say one word during the whole time you are in the school, it will end in a blow-up; that means, on the present occasion, that I’ll skin you alive as they do the eels, which being rather keen work, will just suit your constitution.” I had wit enough to feel assured that Mr O’Gallagher was not to be trifled with, so I took my seat, and amused myself with listening to the various lessons which the boys came up to say, and the divers punishments inflicted —few escaped. At last, the hour of recreation and d inner arrived, the boys were dismissed, each seized his basket, containing his provisions, or ran home to get his meal with his